A view of the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn. Photo:
they were right up there with the Mayers and the Selznicks socially
and materially, Irene’s success
did not escape Edie’s eyes. Her husband’s
seeming lack of talent, however, did not daunt or humiliate. In
devotion to each other impresssed everyone — they called
each other “Snoogie,” a name which so amused their
friend Ernst Lubitsch that he used it for character in two of his
Furthermore Billy Goetz was far more popular in the community then
either David Selznick or L.B. Mayer, and was very well liked by
both men and women. However, from the vantage point of that time – the
late 1930s, early 1940s, no one in Hollywood could have imagined
that Edie would one day rise to eclipse both sister and father,
or that Bill would eclipse both brother- and father-in-law in terms
of business success, wealth and power.
Irene had the successful mogul husband, two sons (Edie
and Bill had two daughters), the bigger house, the closer famous
friends (Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Paley) and the connections
to New York society.
No one could have been more sensitive to this than Billy Goetz,
never considered a contender but just a nice guy who married the
boss’ daughter. In fact, Irene liked to rub it in, repeating
the story that “Dad had found Billy for Edie” when
no one else wanted her.
LB Mayer was also sensitive to the matter. Still the doting father,
he visited his eldest nearly everyday on his way to or from the
studio. He boasted that no matter the time of day, his Edi-la was
always picture perfect, beautifully groomed, dressed, perfumed,
manicured and lacquered nails, so feminine, so lovely. She’d
greet her father with a kiss and like a delighted child, sit on
the old man’s lap, arms around his neck, as he beamed in
a haze of perfumed admiration for his darling child. And so it
followed that when she was unhappy, so was he.
In the mid-1930s he financed a joint venture with the Schenck brothers
(Nick and Joe) to back Darryl
Zanuck, then head of production at
Warners, in his own company, 20th Century Productions. The only
hitch: Billy Goetz had to be made a full partner. He also gave
half his stock in the new company to his daughters and sons-in-law.
Irene was furious about the boost Billy was getting from her father.
She and David refused the stock out of noble principle. They didn’t
need Dad, like some people they knew. So LB gave their share to
Edie and Bill, which only infuriated Irene more. The new company
was successful and when it was merged into the failing Fox pictures
(to become 20th Century-Fox), everyone got rich.
So, to reflect all that, in the year of Gone With the Wind, Billy
gave Edie the Renoir and built her a big new house at the beach
(so they had two residences), bigger even than their neighbors
the Zanucks (whom Edie actively loathed, probably out of jealousy).
Underlying all of this rise to prominence for the Mayer sisters
in their father’s kingdom was the death of their parents’ marriage.
His girls’ leaving home to marry took something from his
relationship with Margaret that left him bereft and lonely. And
lusting. Margaret, besides never having groomed herself for the
life her daughters took to with so much facility was now also menopausal.
Now Dad, the man who had foisted the white picket fence, apple
pie, Mom, the MGM musical and Andy Hardy on the American psyche,
was now the philanderer, albeit somewhat bombastic and bumbling,
chasing after the very shiksas he had idealized on the screen.
When Margaret Mayer realized her man was gone for good, she was
shattered. She had a nervous breakdown, and although her daughters
never had wanted to take sides in their parents’ breakup,
they had to when it came to their social life. After all, their
father was the King of Hollywood. The girls did not handle it well.
Edie was torn and confused. When Margaret was hospitalized, Edie
sent meals prepared by her chef but both she and Irene rarely visited.
Margaret was alone, save the devotion of a niece. Her daughters’ absence
was well-noted but little was said, for L.B. was king, and Dad,
and dined at their tables along with the stars from his stable
Then in the early 1940s, it happened to Irene. David began to stray.
The signs had all been there. It was to be expected; he was one
of the boys – like Jock Whitney (who was free until he remarried
in 1940), like Bill Paley. When he decided he was going to make
young Jennifer Jones a star, in the style that his father-in-law
made stars, he broke up her marriage to Robert Walker,
Irene got the message. She left David and moved to New York, exiling
as it turned out, forever from Dad’s kingdom.
Edie’s marriage had grown stronger through all
this. Billy Goetz, tired of being Number Two son-in-law,
left Zanuck, (some said ousted by Zanuck), and with LB’s backing went
off on his own company which he called International Pictures.
David’s company was Selznick International Pictures similarly
grated on David and Irene’s nerves. Goetz produced Tomorrow
is Forever with their friend Claudette Colbert, Orson
Welles and a little girl named Natasha Gurdin (whom he renamed Natalie
Wood – after his friend Sam Wood, the director), and then
Song of Bernadette, starring his brother-in-law’s new protégé Jennifer
Jones. Now his star was finally on the rise.
and Edie Goetz on the terrace of their
house on 300 Delfurn Drive
In 1946, in partnership with British producer J. Arthur
bought into Universal Pictures, renaming it Universal-International.
To mark the event, Edie staged a dinner party that marked the apotheosis
of her career as a Hollywood hostess. Among the 84 guests (including
wives and husbands) were Greer Garson, Lana Turner, Joan
Crawford, Loretta Young, Robert Young, Douglas Fairbanks, William
Merle Oberon, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Robert Taylor and Barbara
Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Deborah Kerr, Judy Garland and Vincente
Minnelli, Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, David Niven, Danny
Kaye, Irving Berlin, Joan Bennett and Walter Wanger, Robert Montgomery,
Charles Boyer, Sam Goldwyn and Johnny Green who sat and played
for hours while Judy Garland sang to the guests. LB Mayer came
with Lorena Danker, a thirty-year-old San Fernando
Valley widow whom he would soon marry. Not present were Irene (who
was in New
York where she was about to produce Streetcar Named Desire)
and David Selznick who had married Jennifer Jones and was entering
the nadir and conclusion of his meteoric career.
Within three years of the Goetzes’ triumph as
leader in the
community, L.B. Mayer, after twenty-five years of reign over ‘More
Stars than There are In the Heavens,’ was ousted from his
studio. He did not go quietly into that good night, and the adjustment
to banishment and exile was crushing. His enemies chortled and
reveled, his loved ones despaired. In his efforts to survive, he
had offered his only remaining son-in-law the executive position
at MGM but Bill Goetz refused. When Edie asked her husband why
he replied, “because the first thing I’d have to do
is fire your father.” Father was outraged.
LB turned his rage on his daughter, railing against her husband’s
ingratitude and her lavish lifestyle and the same fancy ways he
used to boast about. In one midnight phone conversation to her,
he demanded she leave her husband to prove her loyalty. She hung
up on him.
Repeating a habit he had used on her in childhood when
he was angry at her, she stopped speaking to him. The silent treatment
was to last ... forever. As he lay dying of leukemia five years
later, she refused to go to his sick bed just as he had refused
to visit her mother when she called for him on her deathbed (Irene
did not visit her mother either, excusing herself because she was
in England working with playwright Enid Bagnold on a new project).
Much was made of the rift between father and daughter, but it has
never been pointed out that Edie now held the power over her father,
and like her father, she well knew it and wielded it as brutally
as he could. When Irene called her to tell her that Dad was dying
and that she should come, she shot back: “What do you want
Irene, a deathbed scene?"
LB Mayer struck
back from the grave. When the will was read, disinheriting his
beloved Edi-la, she was off in Cap d’Antibes in a rented
villa (with chef, maid and valet) entertaining Garbo and visiting
Picasso. In another one of her mise en scenes, she would recount
years later how when seeing the headlines of her disinheritance,
Billy Goetz fell to his knees and promised to make up to her anything
the old man deprived her of.
In the late 1950s, Billy Goetz sold out his share of Universal-International
to Jules Stein’s MCA and retired to invest
his millions in a bank (City National) and a venture capital partnership
pal Ardie Deutsch. Once or twice a year Irene
would come west to stay with her sister and her successful brother-in-law.
Everyone marveled at how the “Snoogies” remained so
devoted. Edie, who always claimed that the “one thing (she
knew) was how to get a man,” fantasized affairs with Danny
Kaye (which annoyed his wife Sylvia more
than a little), and before that Eddie Duchin who
she said “shacked up with Irene because
he loved Billy so ....” Billy, on the other hand, had
his dalliances – an affair with Joan Bennett and
Martha Hyer. If Edie knew, she never let on.
In the 1960s, Frank Sinatra, long seeking their company became
a regular and when he married Mia Farrow, Edie,
forty-five years older than the bride served as matron of honor.
The “A crowd” still
came to dine. Their coterie was: Roz Russell and her husband Freddie
Brisson, Phyllis and Bennett Cerf, the Pressman, Bill
and Babe Paley, Jacqueline and Yul Brynner, George Cukor, Capucine,
and Jack Lemmon. At one of Edie’s dinners during
that time, Mae West and Garbo met for the first time. When Elizabeth
Taylor first left Richard Burton (the
first of several times), she camped out at Edie’s (Burton
later sat outside the door refusing to budge until he could join
However, Edie’s great success had long turned to hubris.
In memory, she came to great reverence for her father who had made
it all possible for her. But she had long been prone to intrigues
and gossiping about others in ways that were cruel and demonstrated
jealousy and envy. The great and celebrated still came to dine
but mainly because of the “beloved Billy.”
Then Billy took sick with stomach cancer in the late 1960s. First
misdiagnosed as an ulcer, when the truth was learned, it was too
late. Edie, who was terrified of disease and death could barely
bring herself to stand by her husband’s deathbed. When she
cried, he said to her; “better me than you Snoogie.”
When he died in 1969, Sinatra eulogized him before hundreds who
were truly grieving. Nunnally Johnson wired from
Edie: Dear Billy.” Billy Wilder, also in
London at the time, recalled sitting in his hotel room weeping
over the loss of his
After the funeral service, Edie returned home, climbed the grand
staircase to her room and confessed to her secretary Sonja
Gilbert that it was “all over. Without him, I’m nothing.” She
knew; without the power and popularity of her husband, she was
lost. She shut herself up in her dressing room and for the first
time in her sixty-four years, she cried, sobbing real tears, as
much for her future as her past.
Only a few weeks afterwards, Harriet Deutsch whom she loathed and
picked on for years (but whom she had to invite because the husbands
were best friends), snubbed her at a private dinner. A few weeks
later, Mrs. Deutsch gave an enormous dinner, inviting everyone
who counted in their world, except Edie.
out of respect and affection for Billy, continued to call and console.
But the dye was cast and Edie knew it. When Cary
Grant turned down her invitation to dine, she suspected
hand in poisoning the relationship. Then Sinatra, as was his habit,
seduced her. Which she loved; she was rapturous. Soon she became
his hostess, and in her mind, his future. But then when she realized
that it wasn’t in the cards, she turned on him one night
after he’d brought her home from a dinner party. Without
his asking, she slipped into the conversation that she “could
never marry” him, because as she explained “Deane Johnson (her
lawyer) told me you were a hoodlum.” Sinatra, she
later recalled, turned “purple with rage” walked out
the door. He never spoke to her again.
Billy left Edie residing in their Holmby Hills mansion with its
art covered walls and the live-in staff of ten. The entrance foyer
was stripped of the art to go to auction but Edie insisted it was
because she wanted to re-decorate.
By the mid-1970s, the sisters were not speaking. By
the early 1980s, the glory had long passed although every Tuesday
the women (in evening gowns) and the men came for dinner and a
first run picture – Fred and Robyn Astaire, Jimmy
and Gloria Stewart, Natalie Wood and RJ Wagner, Mary Lasker and
Sir Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Yul Brynner, James Clavell,
Toshiro Mifune. Even a wide-eyed, fascinated Barbara
Streisand came one night.
Vanity still held sway: in 1980, no stranger to plastic surgery,
the 75-year-old dowager had her Mayer chin replaced with a stronger
one. The following year she had her teeth straightened. She visited
Natalie Wood’s shrink everyday. By 1987, she was being consumed
with a degenerative respiratory condition, unable to leave the
house (except to see the doctor).
During the last three years of her life, I visited Edie
every Saturday afternoon and taped our conversations, ostensibly
to gather information for a piece on her memories of growing up
in the film community. She was in failing health with certain respiratory
problems but despite that condition, she remained mentaly energetic,
read a lot, had a few people in to dinner – sometimes on
trays in her very large bedroom, and still screened films (often
before their release).
She had been very interested in psychiatry from her mid-thirties,
first consulting with a woman named Mae Fromm whom
met through Irene. Irene believed that Edie pursued “being
analyzed” as yet another form of competing with Irene who
had “got there first.” That may have been the motivation
but Edie’s interest in “analysis” continued
off and on right up to close to the end of her life when she had
frequent sessions with a Beverly Hills psychiatrist whom she’d met
through Natalie Wood.
We often talked about her father and her husband and the differences
in their personalities during those Saturday sessions. She did
not confide although, in the manner of people brought up in business
of dramatic arts, she was a decent storyteller and a not inept
anecdotalist. At eighty she was kind most of the time in her memories
about everyone including Irene and her father, although she wasn’t
shy about expressing any lingering outrage of injustices or insults
that came her way from those two.
My job was to listen and ask questions. I didn’t venture
any opinions – which would have been appropriate – until
late in the game when we got into the issue of her own family.
At that time, she had been estranged from Barbara Goetz,
the youngest of her two daughters, for quite a few years. I can’t remember
what caused the breach but naturally it was considered Barbara’s
fault and the solution was, as it was with her father: the silent
treatment. It also happened that in my “research” she
did give me permission to contact and interview Barbara about life
at chez Goetz.
Barbara lived in Malibu at the time. I went down to see her one
afternoon at her house, a Mediterranean style villa she had refurbished
that had been built on the beach by a film comedian of the 20s
and 30s. I sat in her kitchen while she talked about her family
frankly although not irreverently, and prepared the food for a
dinner party she was having that night. She seemed quite at home
in the kitchen, unlike her mother, and quite confident (like her
mother) of what she was doing. If her family estrangment troubled
her, she concealed it well. She seemed to understand the differences
between her point of view and her parents’, and being a mother
of grown children at that point herself, she was philosophical
about it. I could see that she had a lot of her mother’s
independence in her, and was also something her mother would have
liked: she was a goodlooking woman.
The next time I saw Edie, she was anxious to “hear” about
Barbara’s interview, what her house was like and what I thought
of her. She was fascinated to hear about her preparing an elaborate
dinner that night. And although she didn’t seem to alter
her opinion of why they had not spoken for all those years, I could
tell that her curiosity was getting the best of her and that if
she had sustained any hard feelings toward her daughter, they were
About a year or maybe less before her death, during one of our
Saturday conversations, the business of Barbara came up and I gently
pointed out to her that there was a family psychology at work,
that her estrangment from her daughter mirrored her relationship
with her father, and that it was a common pattern, found in many
families. I even dared to suggest that perhaps it could be broken
in her lifetime. Edie listened, although she said nothing.
A few weeks later, however, Edie’s secretary, Sonja Gilbert
reported to me that Edie had said to her one morning : “what
would you think if I called Barbara?” Sonja told her she
thought it would be a great idea, and soon was placing the call
for her. The phone visit was returned with an invitation to visit
Barbara’s house, which Edie did. She was very impressed by
her daughter’s environment and her “decorating,” and
it might have been one of the first times in her long life that
she experienced true motherly pride in her child. In short, Edie
repaired the breach, with the cooperation of Barbara. She also
re-wrote her will, generally dividing her estate between her two
daughters, instead of cutting Barbara out, as her father had cut
and her staff
Goetz died in her four-poster king-size bed at
about six in the morning after a bad night, in the master
suite of the house on Delfern Drive on June 3, 1988, with
the Renoir Billy had given her forty-nine years before, hanging
over the fireplace in front of her. The day before had also
been particularly bad for her (degenerative lung) condition,
although she had had bad days before and always bounced back. Lodge,
her butler, reported that he thought she had lost her eyesight
in the last two days of her life, although she didn’t
admit it. The nurse and her chauffeur Hans had
to carry her to the bathroom because she was unable to see
to make her way. Lodge said he felt that when “Madame
could not see, she thought to herself, this is it.” Without
her eyesight, there was not reason to go on, and she gave
up the fight. She would have been 83 in two months.
On hearing the news, Irene, called Claudette Colbert at her
Fifth Avenue apartment, waking her at six in the morning, with the words: “Well,
we can now thank God and rejoice to the heavens! She’s dead!” “Who’s
dead?” asked the barely awakened actress and old friend of both sisters. “Why
Edie, of course! Who else? Thank God!”
Billy Goetz’ great wealth, however, had been dissipated over the years
by his widow’s luxurious living. She had long before gone into her capital,
refusing to cut back on anything, even so much as her chauffeur whom she never
needed, for fear that Harriet Deutsch and Irene Selznick should think she had
no money left. The same with the pictures on the walls of the house: “Over
my dead body!” she would yell at her accountant when it was suggested they
unload a Vuillard or two to meet expenses. Her annual expenses ran about $300,000
and at the time of her death, she had only about $200,000 in cash left.
It was, of course, over her dead body that most of the collection was sold at
Christie’s in New York in November 1988, leaving her children an estate
richer by more than double her father and her sister’s estate’s combined.
(LB Mayer left approximately $10 million in 1957. When Irene’s pictures
were sold after her death, the auction netted less than $6 million).
Edie had directed
in her will that she have no service. One family member said it
was because “she knew nobody would show up.” It might
have been fear. So she was buried at Hillside, next to her beloved
Billy, with no one in attendance except the funeral director and
his assistants. It was the first time in his forty years in business,
commented the director, that he’d performed a burial where
no one person, not even a family member attended. Nobody came.
Although in Edie’s mind, she wouldn’t have needed anybody:
she had her Snoogie at her side once again.
When Irene died two years after her big sister, there was a memorial service
at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre attended by hundreds of Broadway, Hollywood and
New York society personalities.
Edie had won some of the battles, and maybe lost the war with her sister,
but she’d also been to a marvelous party, a movie really, although maybe
not a musical; a long and interesting story, an LB Mayer production.